Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Screenings I shouldn't have bene able to make it to: Jauja & Archie's Betty

I was supposed to go to my cousin's wedding on Saturday and was at the bus station in plenty of time to catch the 8am to Portland, ME, and was walking up to the counter when I discovered that I didn't have my photo ID in my wallet. You need one of those to purchase a bus ticket for post-9/11-paranoia reasons, so I had to catch the train back to the house, look around, go to the place where I thought I might have dropped it, no luck, look around, and feel kind of miserable. The irony is, I think I lost it while making a copy so that I could mail in an application for a new passport to replace the one I lost in Montreal last year. It takes being a special kind of dumb to lose one form of ID will replacing another one.

It gave me a little time to start clearing out the house, though, and then take in a double feature at the Brattle - Juaja, which I really liked, and Darkman, which was the first R-rated movie I saw in a theater, and... Well, it's still certainly something, from when Sam Raimi was still downright weird but not really close to polished yet, Liam Neeson was still trying to fake an American accent on occasion, and Frances McDormand hadn't found her niche. It's one of those movies that's not very good but, damn, if Raimi could do something that crazy again!

Sunday, I went to Archie's Betty, which I had missed during its first weekend at the Institute of Contemporary Art because I was doing the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, and as a guy who is both kind of excited for the Archie reboot with Mark Waid and Fiona Staples and trying to justify those pricy-but-great-looking Bob Montana comic strip collections despite all the crap I have to move and all the bespined comic books on my shelf that I haven't read yet.

Gerald Peary presenting ARCHIE'S BETTY at the ICA

Gerald Peary directs, and he always comes across as a pretty great guy, one who has been a good friend to movie institutions in the Boston area in a way that not all critics manage. I really wish I liked either of his movies a little more because of that, because both Archie's Betty and For the Love of Movies are both about subjects that he clearly feels a great deal of passion for. Looking at my review of For the Love of Movies, I see a lot of similarities between the two movies - he actually fits a lot of information into them, but doesn't necessarily choose what to spend time on wisely, and as a result they feel a lot less effective than they perhaps are.

It's interesting that a guy who has had a pretty good run as a film critic and teacher seems to stumble a bit when trying to create his own. It's worth remembering that analysis and creation are related but distinct skills, and it's harder to go from one to the other than you might think.

(While I'm piling on - he's got some weird takes on the voices of the Archie characters!)

Nearly missed the noon screening, though, because Fan Pier has really built up since I was last there, and I think the sign coming out of the Silver Line station was pointing in the wrong direction. It almost makes the ICA hidden, which is a shame - it's a neat museum and one of my favorite screening rooms in the area, especially when the curtains are open and the screen is just hanging there.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 June 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (first-run, DCP)

Jauja opens with an explanation of the title, a mythological land that was always somewhere over the horizon in Patagonia, although these things are always exaggerated. That's probably the right "it's not really totally real" attitude to have with this movie, which doesn't waste time in plunging its lead into a beautiful but sanity-destroying nightmare.

That would be Gunnar Dinesen (Viggo Mortensen), a Danish engineer in Nineteenth-Century Argentina on a contract to work on a desert fort. He has brought his daughter Ingeborg (Viilbjørk Malling Agger) with him, but is alarmed when the much-older Lieutenant Pittaluga (Adrián Fondari) wishes to take her to the governor's ball. Inge, on the other hand, has eyes for Corto (Diego Roman), and when they steal away into the desert, Gunnar pursues alone, despite warnings that doing so is madness.

Right at the top of the film, Inge says she would like a dog that will follow her wherever she goes, and it's easy to look at what follows and say she already has that. That wouldn't really be correct, though; a dog is loyal and protective without question or apparent desire for itself, while Gunnar is clearly panicked at the idea of Inge growing up and making certain decisions for herself. He tends to initially state her age as fourteen rather than fifteen, fairly close to the line between a girl being considered a child and a potential bride in that time, and one of the totems he clings to when following her is a child's toy. When the film is nearing its end and Gunnar's viewpoint is perhaps becoming more hallucinatory, his fears don't exactly center on finding his daughter dead.

Full review on EFC.

Archie's Betty

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 June 2015 in the Institute of Contemporary Art (special presentation, DCP)

There's probably a fairly decent documentary short to be carved out of Archie's Betty, although it would probably take the sort of ruthless editing and change of focus that leaves it an altogether different film. The short feature that got made isn't bad, but it's a little too concerned with itself more than its subject, and those just interested in the origins of the Archie Comics gang might want it pared down.

Though others are often cited as the creators of Archie Andrews and his high-school classmates - writer Harry Shorten and MLJ Magazines co-founder John Goldwater (whose family still owns what is now Archie Comics) - Bob Montana is considered by many to fit that role best. He illustrated the character's first appearance in Pep Comics and would later draw the newspaper strip for about thirty years. In 1988, lifelong Archie fan Gerald Peary wrote an article in The Boston Globe's Sunday magazine section that about how Montana spent his teen years in nearby Haverhill, Massachusetts, and how the town frequently served as the template for the comics' setting of Riverdale, with many characters based directly on his classmates. As the film starts, Peary is returning to Haverhill and that article, looking to fill in some gaps and correct errors.

There turn out to be enough of both that Peary seems like he might have been better off pulling what he could from the article but never actually mentioning it. The first half or so of the film spends so much time on what he wrote back then that what he says later in the movie has a hard time carrying the same weight. That's unfortunate, because the actual story is just as interesting, even if it often clashes with the initial narrative of Montana immortalizing that image of small-town America. Peary seems unable to let Haverhill go in the editing room, even though it forces the film down a number of blind alleys until it's forced in another direction.

Full review on EFC.

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